Sam Harris on determinism

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default Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Fri Jan 18, 2013 9:54 pm

From the samharris forum, someone replied to me on my thread explaining my
criticism of a Harris article on free will.

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/16894/#223691


Somebody said:

start quote.

I am reading a lot of posts where people seem to be misunderstanding
what Dr. Harris means with regards to the illusion of free will.

> Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc., are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world. Human choice, therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will believe. But the next choice you make will come out of the darkness of prior causes that you, the conscious witness of your experience, did not bring into being. Therefore, while it is true to say that a person would have done otherwise if he had chosen to do otherwise, this does not deliver the kind of free will that most people seem to cherish— because a person’s “choices” merely appear in his mind as though sprung from the void. From the perspective of your conscious awareness, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world.

Harris, Sam (2012-03-06). Free Will (pp. 34-35). Simon & Schuster,
Inc.. Kindle Edition.

We are not a thinker thinking thoughts, rather thoughts arise in
consciousness, of which we are a witness, leading to behaviors due to
a chain of cause and effect that in theory could be traced backward
through our life experiences, our birth, untold generations of our
ancestors, formation of the solar system and the earth, back and back
and back, through all of evolutionary time and space to the big bang
itself. Where is the free will in that?

end quote.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:01 pm

Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc., are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world. Human choice, therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will believe. But the next choice you make will come out of the darkness of prior causes that you, the conscious witness of your experience, did not bring into being. Therefore, while it is true to say that a person would have done otherwise if he had chosen to do otherwise, this does not deliver the kind of free will that most people seem to cherish— because a person’s “choices” merely appear in his mind as though sprung from the void. From the perspective of your conscious awareness, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world.

Harris, Sam (2012-03-06). Free Will (pp. 34-35). Simon & Schuster,
Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Most people don’t understand the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious, so I can see why they would confuse the idea of free will to mean that one has direct control over his subconscious.

I disagree with the implication that we are not responsible. Lets say a guy hits his wife. Say he judges hitting to be bad, but he did it while angry, and regretted it afterwards. The relevant question is not whether or not he could have chosen better in the past, but rather what he should do in the future. He should realize that he has a problem. He should not fool himself into denying that he has a problem. He should take big steps to solve this problem. This might include seeking professional help, and/or reading books on anger, psychology, etc. With this sort of real effort, he can solve his problem. Part of the solution will involve having identified some of his subconscious ideas that are causing his anger reactions, and changing them, thus changing his emotional habit of anger.

We are not a thinker thinking thoughts, rather thoughts arise in
consciousness, of which we are a witness, leading to behaviors due to
a chain of cause and effect that in theory could be traced backward
through our life experiences, our birth, untold generations of our
ancestors, formation of the solar system and the earth, back and back
and back, through all of evolutionary time and space to the big bang
itself. Where is the free will in that?

Consider my hypothetical above. If the guy puts in effort to solve his problem (and solves it), he won’t hit his wife again. If he doesn’t put in effort to solve his problem, then he won’t solve his problem, and he’ll hit his wife again. Its his choice (to put in effort or not). This is free will. Or do you disagree that he has a choice?

He replied:
I don’t disagree that he has a choice. He does choose. But where does
that choice come from?

If a man’s choice to hit his wife is determined by a certain pattern
of neural activity, which is in turn the product of prior cause — say
perhaps he himself was beaten as a child — Why was he beaten as a
child? Because he broke his mother’s mirror. Why or how did he break
his mother’s mirror? Because of Z. Why did Z occur? Because of Y. Why
did Y occur? Because of X. Why did X occur? And so on… back into the
opaque mists of time. What can it possibly mean to say that his will
is “free”?

If a man’s choice to NOT hit his wife again is determined by a certain
pattern of neural activity, which is in turn the product of prior
causes — perhaps because he realized he himself had been abused — Why
had he been abused or why did he realize this? Because of Z. Why did Z
occur? Because of Y. Why did Y occur? Because of X. Why did X occur?
And so on… back into the opaque mists of time. Again, what can it
possibly mean to say that his will is “free”?

The truth is the causal chain is not in reality that simplistic -
there are umpteen reasons or causes which branch out and encompass the
entire universe when it gets right down to it.

BTW, have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or No.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:04 pm

I replied: (and I didn't notice his personalized question at the end of his post)

What is the significance of your explanation?

Are you saying that the guy that hits his wife is not responsible for his actions? That he’s not even responsible, going forward, for solving his problems that are causing his actions?

If you answer ‘yes he is responsible’, then what is the point of your explanation? What problem does it solve? What does it say about responsibility? What does it say about morality? What does it say about how the law should be applied to criminal situations? And what about non-criminal situations like someone having suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts?


He replied:

The significance of my explanation is this: If an infinite regress in
which our actions are determined by character and our character
determined by prior actions then determinism is true, and we are not
free. Ultimately, the guy is not responsible, but that doesn’t mean to
say he should not be punished for his actions. The punishment is just
another cause. What effect will this have on our wife beater? He may
straighten up his act and be paroled early and go on the lecture
circuit or he may become even more despondent in prison and kill his
cell mate and be given the death penalty. Who knows? Who cares? It
doesn’t change a thing other than one’s perspective. Perhaps you will
become a little more compassionate or perhaps you will just freak out
because it means that, ultimately, neither you or anybody else is
really in control. With regards to morality, read “The Moral
Landscape”. Also, I am NOT a Lawyer or a Psychologist. I am an
amateur philosopher just like everybody else.

BTW, have YOU stopped beating your wife? Answer Yes or No please.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:11 pm

The significance of my explanation is this: If an infinite regress in which our actions are determined by character and our character determined by prior actions then determinism is true, and we are not free.
You’re mistaken about that.
Ultimately, the guy is not responsible, but that doesn’t mean to say he should not be punished for his actions.
What problem does punishment solve? Does it help him learn that he made a mistake? Does it help him understand the hurt that his mistake caused? Does it help him learn what problem he has that led to the mistake?

Do you think that a parent should say to their kids that they are “ultimately not responsible”?

Do you think that a parent should punish his kids?
The punishment is just another cause.
Punishment is evil. Are you advocating punishment?
What effect will this have on our wife beater?
Do you know the answer to that?

Do you think he’ll learn? How do you think learning works? Do you think punishment is conducive to learning?
He may straighten up his act and be paroled early and go on the lecture circuit or he may become even more despondent in prison and kill his cell mate and be given the death penalty. Who knows?
In advance, no one can know. Do you agree?
Who cares?
I’m sure lots of people care, e.g. the people getting hurt by it.
It doesn’t change a thing other than one’s perspective. Perhaps you will become a little more compassionate or perhaps you will just freak out
In a philosophical discussion, why would anyone freak out?

And why did you only give emotional reactions as possible outcomes? What about reason?
because it means that, ultimately, neither you or anybody else is really in control.
I don’t agree with your assertion that we are not “really in control”.
With regards to morality, read “The Moral Landscape”.
Are you deferring to that book because you don’t know?

If you don’t know, and if you also don’t know about how your free will theory connects with psychological and legal issues, then what *do* you know about how your free will theory connects to the rest of reality?
Also, I am NOT a Lawyer or a Psychologist. I am an amateur philosopher just like everybody else.
I know many amateur philosophers who discuss legal and psychological matters.
BTW, have YOU stopped beating your wife? Answer Yes or No please.
You shouldn’t mistake hypothetical situations for reality. Philosophers routinely use hypothetical situations in discussion. Its a tradition.

I routinely use hypotheticals that involve evil ideas, like punishment.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:12 pm

He replied:

Rami, you ask some good questions, but I am now convinced, after looking at your blog, that you are looking for answers which only confirm what you already believe to be true. I am finished with this discussion.
I replied:

Huh? My blog doesn’t tell you that. It says the opposite. For example, this is one of my quotes: "We are all fallible -- anyone of us can be wrong about any one of our ideas. So shielding any one of my ideas from criticism means irrationally believing that I have the truth."

This is talking about situations where someone is being close-minded about an idea.

You’ve just said that my blog tells you that I am “looking for answers which only confirm what I already believe to be true.” I read that as you calling me closed-minded about an idea (or ideas). Is that what you mean? If so, which idea(s) do you think I’m being closed-minded about? If I’m being closed-minded about an idea, I want to fix it, so please show me my blind spot.

If you didn’t mean that I’m being closed-minded about an idea, then what did you mean?

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:51 am

He replied:

Rami, I am not anti-free will. How can I be against something I think is unreal to begin with? I am for using Science to reveal the underlying Reality of the Universe, whatever that may be, using facts, reason and logic. I think you are still missing the point of Dr. Harris’ original argument. It seems to me you are actually proving the point about the illusion of free will with your incessant questioning. The regress argument, which is another problem in philosophy, states that any proposition requires a justification and any justification itself requires further support. This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, like a child who continues to ask “why?” over and over again. In the same way, any choice or decision you make requires a cause, reason or justification and any cause, reason or justification itself requires further support. It would seem then that Free Will would entail an infinite regress of intentional states. Where does the buck stop? The only way to escape from such regress would be by postulating some arbitrary intentional starting state. Are you saying that you are the uncaused cause and the unmoved mover of yourself? That is what the religionists or theists call God. Are you God? Nevermind that question because I don’t believe in God either.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:53 am

Rami, I am not anti-free will. How can I be against something I think is unreal to begin with? I am for using Science to reveal the underlying Reality of the Universe, whatever that may be, using facts, reason and logic. I think you are still missing the point of Dr. Harris' original argument. It seems to me you are actually proving the point about the illusion of free will with your incessant questioning.
Two posts worth of questions is not "incessant".


I guess that you think its incessant since you don't have answers. But all of my questions have answers. If you want to know them, let me know.


The regress argument, which is another problem in philosophy, states that any proposition requires a justification and any justification itself requires further support.
Which is why justificationism is false.


This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, like a child who continues to ask "why?" over and over again. In the same way, any choice or decision you make requires a cause, reason or justification and any cause, reason or justification itself requires further support.
Here's a counter-example for you. I chose to reply to your post. I have reasons for why I prefer to reply. This did not lead to a regress. If it did lead to regress, then I wouldn't have replied since I'd still be deciding.


It would seem then that Free Will would entail an infinite regress of intentional states. Where does the buck stop? The only way to escape from such regress would be by postulating some arbitrary intentional starting state. Are you saying that you are the uncaused cause and the unmoved mover of yourself? That is what the religionists or theists call God. Are you God? Nevermind that question because I don't believe in God either.
I suggest that we first work on justificationism before addressing free will, since your sticking point is the regress problem.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:26 am

He replied:
//////////////////////////////////////////////

I guess that you think its incessant since you don't have answers. But all of my questions have answers. If you want to know them, let me know.

That statement, in my opinion, is arrogant and will be the primary reason I choose to terminate this discussion.

Unlike you, I do not claim to have ALL the answers. I have simply tried to offer my understanding and explanation, using reason and logic, for the idea that free will is an illusion. I have no stake in it whatsoever.

Your claim is that we do have free will. Where is your proof? What is the basis for your belief in free will? I don't see IT anywhere in this thread. All I see from the very start is criticism and assertions without providing any type of proof or basis for free will whatsoever. You seem to be arguing for the usefulness of free will which is, I think, a very different thing.

I regret my use of the word "incessant". My every word, it seems, can become a piece of straw with which to build rebutals with. I must be more careful. Lets start over. Lets clean the slate, so to speak, shall we? What can we agree on? Are we or are we not conscious beings? I would say yes. Are we or are we not, conscious beings in a causal universe? I would say yes. How did this universe begin? I would say because of the big bang. Do we know what caused the big bang? I would say no, we do not know and may never know. So, it seems reasonable and practical to take the big bang as our starting point in a chain of causality leading up to this point, because anything else, like bubble theory, which actually seems plausible to me, is pure metaphysical conjecture. Is it possible to trace the chain of cause and effect from the begining? Yes, I think it is, in principle, but surely not in practice.

Now, here we are and just because you choose some arbitrary starting point in the neural activity of your brain, which itself is a natural product of the universe, and assert that IT is the uncaused cause behind your thoughts and actions, at this very instant, does not make it so and is not proof of free will. THIS mistake is the illusion behind free will which I think Dr. Harris is refering to.

This is my argument in a nutshell. Tear it apart and then put forward your own proof for why you believe that we have free will and what is the basis for it.

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default Re: Sam Harris on determinism

Post by rombomb on Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:37 am

Rami Rustom wrote:I guess that you think its incessant since you don't have answers. But all of my questions have answers. If you want to know them, let me know.

That statement, in my opinion, is arrogant and will be the primary reason I choose to terminate this discussion.
Why is it arrogant? Maybe you would want to know. Isn't it possible? Why is it bad for me to say that? Wouldn't it be better to cover that base by reaching out to you?


Unlike you, I do not claim to have ALL the answers.
I also don't claim that. What did I say to you that led you to believe that? Just because I claim to have answers to *some* questions does not imply that I think I have answers to *all* questions. Nor does it imply that I believe that my answers are infallible/certain/perfect.


I have simply tried to offer my understanding and explanation, using reason and logic, for the idea that free will is an illusion. I have no stake in it whatsoever.
So lets continue discussing. I don't see any good reason for you to stop.


Your claim is that we do have free will. Where is your proof?
Proof is a false concept. Its a justificationist mistake. The best we can have is explanations, and only fallibly. They cannot be justified.


What is the basis for your belief in free will?
We make choices. That is my basis.


I don't see IT anywhere in this thread.
Well we haven't gotten very far yet.


All I see from the very start is criticism and assertions without providing any type of proof or basis for free will whatsoever. You seem to be arguing for the usefulness of free will which is, I think, a very different thing.
No, I gave you an example of someone who makes a choice. That means we have free will.

You think that the choice is not a choice, because of some regress argument. But your regress argument presupposes that knowledge is created infallibly (aka with certainty) by justification, which is false, rendering your argument false. We can discuss this part if you want, but I don't think its necessary to our free will discussion.


I regret my use of the word "incessant". My every word, it seems, can become a piece of straw with which to build rebutals with. I must be more careful. Lets start over.
Great!


Lets clean the slate, so to speak, shall we?
Excellent!


What can we agree on? Are we or are we not conscious beings? I would say yes.
Yes.


Are we or are we not, conscious beings in a causal universe? I would say yes.
Are you saying that there is no randomness? I disagree. The MWI interpretation of QM says that there is randomness, i.e. that determinism is false. But I don't think that this is needed to understand that we have free will.


How did this universe begin? I would say because of the big bang. Do we know what caused the big bang? I would say no, we do not know and may never know. So, it seems reasonable and practical to take the big bang as our starting point in a chain of causality leading up to this point, because anything else, like bubble theory, which actually seems plausible to me, is pure metaphysical conjecture. Is it possible to trace the chain of cause and effect from the begining? Yes, I think it is, in principle, but surely not in practice.
Not according to MWI.


Now, here we are and just because you choose some arbitrary starting point in the neural activity of your brain, which itself is a natural product of the universe, and assert that IT is the uncaused cause behind your thoughts and actions, at this very instant, does not make it so and is not proof of free will. THIS mistake is the illusion behind free will which I think Dr. Harris is refering to.

This is my argument in a nutshell. Tear it apart and then put forward your own proof for why you believe that we have free will and what is the basis for it.
I think I've done that in this post. If you don't agree, let me know and we can continue this part of the discussion.

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